Colorado Fuel and Iron: Culture and Industry in Southern Colorado

The Crystal River Railway

The Crystal River Railway (CRRwy) was the second attempt to build a railway down the Crystal River, following in the footsteps of the Aspen & Western Railroad. The line was incorporated on August 8,1892, under the control of Colorado Fuel & Iron. As with most of their railway investments, the line was intended to tap raw materials - in this case, coal from around Redstone, with the future possibility of reaching marble and metallic ore deposits further to the south.

Like its predecessor, the Aspen & Western Railroad, the Crystal River Railway was originally built to narrow gauge. With the A&W gone, the CRRwy was able to use the first three miles of right-of-way leaving Carbondale, CO. However, rather than turning west via Thompson Creek, the CRRwy proceeded southward along the Crystal River towards a mine and coke oven facility under construction at Redstone, CO. The route had only reached a bit past milepost 12 (just past Avalanche Creek) on March 12, 1893 when construction was put on indefinite hold. The Silver Crash of 1893 significantly devalued metals, causing production to slow and consequently, with less smelting going on, a significant drop in the price of coke. Thus, the construction of the Crystal River Railway no longer made sense, and the project stopped with no evidence of ever having made a revenue run. 1 Despite the lack of operations, the route was apparently converted to standard gauge in 1896.

The Crystal River Railroad
On September 6,1898 the assets of the Crystal River Railway were purchased by the newly-incorporated Crystal River Railroad. The line was extended southward from milepost 12 (where the CRRwy ended) to about three-quarters of a mile past Placita, giving a total length of about 21.3 miles. The line was placed into service on July 1,1899.

The CRRR, despite having a standard gauge mainline, also built the narrow gauge Coalbasin Branch west from the coke ovens at Redstone to the mine at Coalbasin. (The branch was also apparently called the "High Line", not to be confused with the one on the D&RGW's Silverton Branch.) The route was completed on November 22,1900. Some of this material - notably 40lb rail - came from the abandoned Aspen & Western Railroad.

The Coalbasin Branch (as well as the Coalbasin Mine and Redstone coking ovens) shut down extremely abruptly on January 12,1909 for an unknown reason. The three narrow gauge locomotives (101-103) were stored at Redstone, and eventually sold to the Rio Grande in 1914 or 1916 (date disputed). 101 and 102 became D&RG Class C-21 #430 and 431, and 103 became Class C-25 #432.

The Denver & Rio Grande contemplated purchasing the line from CF&I in 1903, and even called a special shareholders' meeting on October 18, 1903. Apparently authorization did not come, as the purchase never happened.

The standard gauge mainline ceased operations on December 7, 1919, and sat idle for two-and-a-half years until being leased out to the Crystal River & San Juan Railroad.

The Crystal River & San Juan Railroad
The Crystal River & San Juan was incorporated on October 24,1906 to extend the Crystal River Railway from Placita, CO, on to Marble, CO - a distance of 7.3 miles. The railroad would serve to haul finished marble products out to market, as well as to haul supplies into town. Until 1910, the CR&SJ interchanged all traffic with the Crystal River Railroad at Redstone, using several miles of trackage rights north from Placita. On December 8, 1910, about a year after CF&I had ceased mining coal at Coalbasin (and thus eliminating one of the two large reasons for the CRRR's existence), the Crystal River & San Juan was given trackage rights all the way to Carbondale, so that they wouldn't be dependent upon the CRRR for haulage to the outside world.

This operating scenario continued until September 30, 1917, when the CR&SJ suspended operations on account of the marble finishing plant in Marble, CO, shutting down. This left only the Crystal River RR operating from Redstone north to Carbondale. With the end of the CRRR on December 1, 1919, the entire line went dormant.

The marble works reorganized and restarted operations in 1922. CF&I, having no interest in participating in the restarted operation, leased the entire route to the CR&SJ. Operations continued for nearly two decades, hauling marble, livestock, and supplies. However, with the cessation of Yule Marble operations at the end of 1941, the line was put up for abandonment. Abandonment was approved by the ICC on September 22, 1941, and scrapping operations by Morse Brothers Machinery of Denver commenced on 15-Nov-1941. Scrapping of the route, along with the Colorado Yule Marble Electric Railroad?, was completed by 1943.

As an interesting trivia note, marble for both the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier came out of the quarries above Marble and was hauled over the CR&SJ.

Source: Rio Grande Info- 

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